unc·​tu·​ous | \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio) , -chəs, -shwəs \

Definition of unctuous

1 : having, revealing, or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality
2a : fatty, oily
b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
3 : plastic fine unctuous clay

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Other Words from unctuous

unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Is unctuous positive or negative?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act, that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere ("to anoint"), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent ("a soothing or healing salve") and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the application of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but his or her insincere earnestness can leave an unwelcome residue with others, much like some ointments.

Examples of unctuous in a Sentence

an unctuous effort to appear religious to the voters an unctuous appraisal of the musical talent shown by the boss's daughter
Recent Examples on the Web The heat from the noodles will cook the egg, melt the cheese, and create an unctuous sauce. Hetty Mckinnon, Bon Appétit, "6 Delicious Ways to Bulk Up Instant Noodles," 10 July 2020 The snap and sting of pickled carrots, daikon and chiles mingle with splintering bread, unctuous pâté and meats that are grilled or processed into cold cuts. Los Angeles Times, "Eight great places for takeout banh mi," 8 May 2020 More romantic loneliness followed in the encore, the unctuous slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata. Washington Post, "The bar was set high for Austrian cellist Kian Soltani, and his latest recital delivered," 23 Jan. 2020 Critics described him variously as pompous, sycophantic, unctuous, oleaginous and obsequious. Jo Craven Mcginty, New York Times, "James Lipton, ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ Host, Dies at 93," 2 Mar. 2020 Hunter’s Timon tends more toward rough playfulness, interacting with the audience in the front rows with some edgy but not too disquieting banter, and getting laughs by inveigling the unctuous Painter into eating worms. Geoffrey O’brien, The New York Review of Books, "A Timon for Our Time," 29 Jan. 2020 But the point here is not about two unctuous Virginia Republicans. Amelia Harnish, refinery29.com, "The Equal Rights Amendment: It's Not Over 'Til It's Over," 15 Jan. 2020 The unctuous and now discredited lawyer Michael Avenatti was constantly on TV, welcomed on ABC, with his lips and tongue wet and malicious with gossip. John Kass, Twin Cities, "John Kass: Jeffrey Epstein and Brett Kavanaugh: A tale of double standards," 12 Nov. 2019 The pain aux raisins is my favorite, a tight coil of croissant dough layered with a whisper of unctuous pastry cream and jammy-glazy raisins. Chris Morocco, Bon Appétit, "Almondine Bakery Is the Only Reason You’ll Find Me in Dumbo," 8 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unctuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of unctuous

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for unctuous

Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

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Time Traveler for unctuous

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The first known use of unctuous was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

20 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Unctuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unctuous. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for unctuous


How to pronounce unctuous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of unctuous

formal + disapproving used to describe someone who speaks and behaves in a way that is meant to seem friendly and polite but that is unpleasant because it is obviously not sincere


unc·​tu·​ous | \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s, ˈəŋ(k)sh-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of unctuous

: rich in oil or fat : fatty an unctuous pharmaceutical preparation

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